During these times, brands need to do the right thing or nothing at all

"In 2020, America is still struggling to make substantial change toward social justice."

The Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 crisis are collectively reshaping what "brand marketing" should mean right now and into the future. Up until this month, a standard outreach to customer bases regarding COVID-19 had been to either express awareness and concern via email or spend money on a TV ad communicating that the brand has done a good thing. Such ideas were born from a conventional, crisis-marketing playbook: reach out and communicate how the brand is handling said crisis and say something empathetic.  

But this two-front crisis is not conventional and could not be a better time to not only spark change in how brands look at social impact, but how they implement it for the long haul. 

It’s worth pausing to note that 30 years after filmmaker Spike Lee made his opus, "Do The Right Thing," about racial injustice and police brutality, that movie still rings incredibly true. In 2020, America is still struggling to make substantial change toward social justice. If brands are going to participate in this moment, they need to transform their empathy into meaningful and tangible actions—or do nothing at all. After all, marketers remember the Kendall Jenner ad from three years ago that serves as a strong example of the critical nature of ensuring there’s diversity at all levels making decisions that can impact brand perception.

Thankfully, stronger examples are emerging. Nickelodeon’s "I Can’t Breathe" video that lasts 8 minutes and 46 seconds-how long police brutality victim George Floyd was pinned to the ground before dying. The ad was powerful but simple, only including those three words of copy flashing on a black screen in cadence with the sound of someone breathing. Not all parents appreciated having to explain to their children what the spot was about. But it contributed to the national conversation in a productive if not powerful way, to educate and surface the reality of why these protests were happening without waving the brand’s banner. In another tone-aware response, Lego pulled advertising for police-related toys and donated $4 million to end racism. And rather than running more ads, various beauty brands are contributing $1 million or more to causes and social justice organizations supporting the Black community.  

From a longer view, due to these parallel crises—where we are addressing racial injustice and dealing with the coronavirus pandemic—it’s not a time to just spend dollars on broadcast that could otherwise be directed to efforts that actually assist people. With all of that in mind, now is the time to push beyond thinking about this solely through the lens of "brand marketing." After all, the brand should express the company DNA and values and not just be a mirage for what consumers want to see.

Amy Vale is CMO of Dosh.

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